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Reviewing and Closing Out 2020

I’m enjoying the current transition to winter, with the energy of this year winding down.

As the light in each day decreases, there is more permission and time to go inwards. The next chapter cannot be seen but in this darkness, there is quiet and trust. I find peace in this moment, knowing new will arise and the stillness is the pause before the next birth.

To me, it’s soothing to look back and find patterns. To know each cycle has a beginning and ending, and the ending of one cycle is the beginning of the next. It relieves the unnatural pressure of linearity.

One of my intentions is to surrender to the unknown with faith that though I can’t see what’s next, I am growing more adept at cultivating inner resources. Regardless of external circumstances, I don’t need all the things I want in order to be happy and at peace.

Even as uncertainty lingers in the air, I’m noticing people spending more time in fruitful introspection. I’ve heard great insights from those who are processing their learnings from the year. This seems like early sparks of new creative impulses. I’m interested to see how we as a collective will put our new knowledge into action.


Following the energy of review and retrospective, I’ve created several events for December. Click the links to sign up.

Writing Journeys Monthly Meeting: Uncertainty, December 10, 2020. 7-8pm PT

The human mind can have difficulties with uncertainty and unpredictability. Take a look at how you’re dealing with uncertainty and what would support you.

Winter Solstice Writing Ritual celebrating winter and welcoming the Great Conjunction, December 21, 2020 (sponsored by New Renaissance Bookstore).

Do you dread winter, the season of cold and darkness?

Instead of avoiding or despising the season, what if you could choose to begin winter consciously?  Remembering that each season has a purpose in the greater cycle of beginnings and endings.

Winter Solstice, the first day of winter, is a time to reflect and go inwards.  This special day also marks the Great Conjunction, an energetic turning point of Jupiter and Saturn meeting at 0 degrees, symbolizing potential for new beginnings.  When you slow down and tune into your inner truths, you may find ease and balance.  In this conscious practice, release and integrate the past, set intentions, transition into winter, and prepare for the year ahead.

Guided 2020 Review, December 28 – January 1.

Processing and closing out 2020 seems like it’d take more than one day! This review takes place over 5 days – the last four days of 2020 and the first of 2021.

By December 28, you may be tired of thinking about 2020 and itch to move past it. However, I’ve found that trying to leave something behind without integrating it doesn’t work as well as seeing what’s truly there. Inviting the wisdom can be powerful.

Plus, if you’re anything like me, your ego mind has a tendency to focus on the negative until it is deliberately redirected. One way of doing this is to practice asking the question, “what’s good?” This review will offer balance and closure.

Give voice to the insights which may have been arising through the year. Complete the stories in your mind. Capture as complete a picture as is possible. I invite you to join me in celebrating completion and new beginnings.

Writing Journeys Monthly Meeting: Embodying Your Yes, January 14, 2021. 7-8pm PT

Kick off the year with some feel-good discovery around what it feels like to be in your “YES.”

Your Creative Process & Productivity Style

red blue and white abstract painting
Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

What is your current preferred way to work or write? Deep and intense, shallow periodic spurts, or steady consistent rhythm?

Perhaps you’ve observed your patterns changing over time.

I notice that I currently prefer going deep and doing much at once. I follow the momentum: The more I do, the more I want to do, and the more I feel capable of doing. I can go from morning to late night for days feeling “drivey” and motivated to keep going. And then I crash. I rest and recover my energy. Then I take a look at what went well and what I learned from the process. Once I’ve recovered fully, I go again when inspiration sparks.

While I enjoy working in this creative method, it’s typically not predictable or sustainable. Sometimes following the energy isn’t enough; I need more discipline even if it decreases my drive. I consciously try to bring consistent discipline to temper my need for depth.

I also find inspiration from collaboration or being able to talk things through with someone. This usually results in a freshening of the energy for the project or draft. I’m often more aware of myself and how I’m showing up, whether the other person reflects it back to me or not. This helps me observe some of the patterns that prevent me from making progress. Am I pulling in a bunch of ideas at once and lacking focus? Have I lost the excitement and need to let the idea go for now so it can shift to something more correct?

Using awareness of how you work, you can elevate your productivity in ways that feel good.

What is your approach to creation, writing, or life? Is there another style you can pull in to temper, support, or boost your natural tendencies?

How To Measure Progress In Writing

I recently had a meeting with one of my students’ parents. They asked a valid question, “What is his progress? How has he progressed?” They wondered if they should be concerned he’d only written X essays over the last few months.

Writing isn’t objective like math or science. Grades may not increase linearly. To an untrained eye, writing is writing. It’s not always clear what to look for.

Here are some of my thoughts.

It’s not about quantity, like number of essays written, or number of pages filled. It’s about quality. Does the writing make sense and read smoothly? Is it clear and easy to follow? Are the main points thoughtful, well-articulated, and supported with strong reasoning? Are there grammar issues? Does it speak to the audience?

The best indicator of progress is to compare the first and final draft, and the first piece written to the last piece. Writing isn’t a one-time thing. It involves multiple steps.

Progress in writing is most often nonlinear and best seen over time. With my students and clients, sometimes it’s hard to see when looking at each session what has changed. But in a month’s time, or even better, two month’s time, real progress can be seen.

If you’re a writer yourself, take hope that even if you don’t see it yourself, sometimes you need to look back and compare the previous draft.

Look for the big picture – structure and overall flow.
The content – sound reasoning.
The details – grammar.

Does this help? What are your thoughts on how the quality and progress of writing ability can be measured?

Dread revision? Ease into it with these 5 steps.

When I was a child, I loathed checking my math before I turned my test in. It was boring! I never found mistakes anyway…

…Okay, so I definitely made careless errors here and there. I wasn’t invested in seriously looking for mistakes. With childish conceit, I believed I didn’t make mistakes often enough to bother looking for them to correct them. I thought I did well enough the first time.

Not wanting to check my work played into my writing as well. I valued the creation stage over the revising one. When I’d finished writing a draft to the end, I believed it complete. I didn’t want to discover new issues to work on. In addition, I didn’t know how to walk through a system for revisions.

If you, too, dread checking your work, I understand.

And, I’ve come to learn the value of the revision and editing process… to the point where I enjoy it! Even my clients say that after working with me, they’ve learned that editing can be fun. If that’s not you (yet?), it’s okay.

If you’re struggling to transition into the revision stage, here are some tips to help ease into it:

  1. Know why you’re revising.

    The purpose of revision is different from the purpose of writing. In the writing stage, you’re trying to capture and display all of your thoughts to completion. In the editing stage, the aim is to ensure that the writing aligns with the intention of the writing.

    Imagine putting on a different hat for each stage.

    It’s not about the structure and grammar itself, but the presentation as a whole. For example, spelling and grammar errors may make you seem less professional. Undefined structure and lack of flow can dampen clarity, and prevent your readers from understanding or even enjoying reading.

    Just like on a math test, if you’ve made a careless mistake, the outcome may not be as intended. The revision stage is about making sure the end result is the one you intend.

  2. Have a checklist and structure the revision.

    Instead of halfheartedly reading the draft over and over, trying to spot random errors, focus on one thing at a time. Start with big-picture things like structure. Then, hone in on the details. Work to enhance your strengths as well as improve your weaknesses.

    Questions to come back to, include: Who is the audience? What is the purpose of the writing? Is it clear?

    Focus on one area of improvement at a time.

  3. Fresh eyes.

    Putting your draft aside for a while is very effective at refreshing your mind and connection to the writing. You can see things you couldn’t before. Novelty increases dopamine and chemicals in your brain that make you focus and pay attention (stemming from the need to look out for danger.) It will be easier to see things differently after space from your project.

  4. Read it out loud.

    You may primarily be in relationship to the draft through the written words. Speaking out verbally can connect you to it in a novel way.

  5. Ask for feedback.

    An outside perspective can mean everything.

    After all, isn’t the purpose of your writing to communicate and connect with others? You may be crystal clear about what you’re trying to say. Yet you may not reach your goals if clarity issues (which you can’t see because you wrote it) prevent your readers from understanding what you’re communicating.

    Find a buddy or an editor. When requesting feedback from a buddy, prepare specific questions to make it easier to receive the feedback you need. As an editor, I walk my clients through the entire process to make it easier (and more enjoyable).

I hope this helps you move out of the creating mindset and into the revising one. What do you find enjoyable about revision? Is there anything specific you’re struggling with? Comment below and let me know! I’d love to hear from you.

Procrastinating after the initial excitement wears off? Try this.

It was the beginning of a new writing project… Fingers flying over the keyboard. Leaning into the computer screen. Excited flush through your body. Steadily higher-ticking word count. Surprise when you looked at the time, for how much had passed. Typing late in bed and allowing schedule delays because of delightful idea-whispers in your ear. Your friends could see it in the openness of your face, the brightness in your eyes, the big ol’ grin… you were creating.

Then… what happened?

Now you dread opening the document. You’ve been staring at the same words for the past week. Nothing changes even after hours in front of the screen.

The time you’ve allotted for writing comes around… but you. don’t. wanna! You find other things to do. You miss the spark and wonder what’s wrong. Maybe your idea just isn’t working.

~

This procrastination and resistance in the middle stage of writing is normal. The initial spark of inspiration can’t always carry through an entire project. Just like when exercising, there can be a plateau somewhere in the middle when the novelty and excitement has worn off.

Below are five things you can try when you’re procrastinating.

  1. Take a break. Focusing on something else for a while can be a much-needed reset. You may even return to that OTHER project you were procrastinating on — this can be a welcome time to switch gears. Then when you hit a snag with the other project, you can return to this. 🙂
  2. Have a gentle inquiry with yourself about what is underlying the “I don’t wanna.” Put on a hat of genuine compassionate curiosity. Ask that “I don’t wanna!” voice for more details as if it is a child. Why not? Why? Keep asking why. Remember to be gentle with the voice – curiosity and kindness will likely get you much further than force or judgement. (E.g. I should be enjoying myself — something’s wrong if I don’t feel happy and inspired when creating. What if this is a dumb idea and it’s pointless to complete it? When I finish, I’ll have to show it to people; I’m not ready for that!)
  3. Set a timer for five minutes. Or use a stopwatch. Tell yourself you’re going to seriously try to write for those five minutes. You don’t have to be productive, make a ton of progress, or complete your draft. Just tell yourself to sit and make a sincere effort for those five minutes. If after the time is up, you’re still struggling and not enjoying yourself, you can stop. And if you’re loosened up and the spark of inspiration is there, you can keep going until it doesn’t feel good anymore. This can take away some of the pressure. I find it surprisingly effective. Most often, I continue writing well past the initial 5 minutes.
  4. Change up the routine. If you’ve been staring at your screen, try writing by hand. If you always write at your desk, try the living room or take your laptop outside. Novelty can increase chemicals like dopamine and send signals from the brain to be more alert. This can help when you feel apathy towards your writing.
  5. Accountability. Like setting a timer, letting someone else know your goal is a way to have accountability. Try setting process-oriented instead of outcome-oriented goals. How much time do you want to spend on your writing, and when? Tell a buddy what you plan to do, and see if that helps stick to it.

Similar to plateauing with an exercise goal after the initial excitement wears off, sometimes writing feels like work. Even if it isn’t fun all the time, it doesn’t mean it’ll always be like that. It doesn’t mean you’ll never finish.

Sometimes you just need to keep going. You may even be closer than you think to the end. The results may surprise you. Be kind to yourself.

I hope this helps you plod through the messy middle. Is there something from this list you’ve tried, or want to try? What helps you through procrastination? I’d love to hear from you. Comment below and let me know!

Working With Shame

There are two parts of working with shame. One is relational, the other is internal.

Relational

The relational aspect is bringing shame to the light, and sharing the vulnerability in a safe space where you can be seen and heard. Where you can experience authentic connection. Shame can’t exist in the light, where it is seen, accepted, understood, and loved.

The first time you let yourself be seen in vulnerability in a situation that caused disconnect or loss in the past is rightfully scary. You don’t know what will happen. Endless worst-case scenarios may loop in your mind. After all, you don’t know how others will respond; you have no control over their reactions.

Imagine seeing over and over again that the shameful part of yourself CAN be okay and safe. You CAN have deeper connection by being who you are. This experience helps create new positive neuropathways. Consistently and repetitively creating these new neuropathways cements a new experience.

Yes, it is possible for your shame to be seen and loved.

The relational aspect of working with shame involves taking risks of vulnerability to let shame peek out from where it has been shoved in that dark box. Choosing a supportive sandbox to play with visibility for your shame can help. You can make choices for when, where, and with whom to be vulnerable.

Over time, like any new skill, it becomes easier to practice resilience in vulnerability. Experiencing new forms of attuned secure connection helps that process along. Speaking about shame can create space for a new way of being to sprout.

Of course, no environment, situation, or person is perfect. There are times when reaching out or opening up may fall short. While this is deeply painful, congratulate and celebrate yourself for trying. This effort is what is in your control, not others’ reactions to you.

This brings us to the internal aspect.

Internal

The internal aspect of working with shame involves shifting your relationship with yourself. It’s naming shame. Having compassion and kindness when you go into a shame spiral. Navigating that spiral so you don’t harm yourself from your own thoughts and reactions.

Self-soothing. Finding resilience. Uncovering intrinsic motivation to keep going when things are hard. Self-awareness to rest when needed.

Shame doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. It’s actually normal. It serves a purpose.

**

Combining the relational and internal aspects sets the stage for a supportive partnership through shame.

In this article, I speak first about the relational aspect because shame inherently is about other people. It’s how you’re perceived by others, lack of attunement with others, fear of disconnect from others.

When you have a safe base to “hold the rope” of connection and encourage the sprout of authentic vulnerability to grow, your shame demons are no longer in the spotlight. You are connecting. You can use this mirror to reflect to you the parts of yourself you can’t see when the shame demons are taking over. There is a clearer path forward.

Remember, you don’t have to go through it alone. When you start opening up and letting your tender heart be seen, a natural effect is deeper connections, greater resiliency, and a stronger sense of self-worth.

Shame: The Painfully Elusive Key

You know those moments when you feel terrible, but you’re not really sure what’s happening, and why? You’re disconnected from your body. You feel anxious when people look at you. You walk into a room with your gaze down, shoulders bowed. You keep to the corner because you are certain if you were seen, others would know you were different. They’d know there’s something wrong with you. You ruminate after every interaction, try to please everyone, aim for perfection, and feel like an imposter. Unseen and misunderstood. Lonely and disconnected. Anxious and sad.

This is a manifestation of shame.

Shame.

Shame is an elusive sneaky little thing. Is it an emotion? Is it a mechanism protecting from emotion and vulnerability?

One of the things about shame is that it muddles the truth. It’s hard to pin down. Who wants to look shame in the face?

Dancing with shame.

There are many ways to define shame. This article describes some of what I’ve learned. This is not an exhaustive interpretation, but covers the basics. These ideas inform the way I see and work with it, while allowing shifts and evolution over time the more I dance with it. Let me know how it helps you.

Dancing With Shame

A rush of heat from gut to throat, like you’re going to throw up. Chest contracted, shoulders caved in, heart racing. As quick as the heat rises, it’s gone and replaced by cold. Trembling. Tightening.

The worst part? You can’t let anyone else see you quake. You’ve got to hold it all in. As bad as this is, it would be so much worse if anyone saw.

It might even be unrecoverable. You know you’ll be rejected and abandoned.

So all that energy — horror rising deep from within that cavernous part of you… it stays with you.

It turns into a cold distant freeze that never gets fully thawed, because that would be unbearably painful. Or it becomes anger outwardly expressing that hot energy, blaming and spewing on any target in sight who would cower — whoever would not turn around and hold up a mirror.

It’s the worst thing ever for you to see it.

Be Right Where You Are

A reminder for when you’re feeling a lot and struggling…

You will not be in this state forever. There will be a shift.  

You don’t need to plan six steps into the future, with contingency plans for each possibility. You don’t need to know. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. I know, that feels terrible to hear. You want to know so badly. But it’s really truly okay.

It is safe to let go of that gripping grasping wanting-needing to control the future so you know it’ll all be okay. It is okay. Right here.

Be where you are. Notice how it feels. You’re trying so hard to be somewhere else. Wanting, striving, seeking.  

What is here?

Is it… prickly thorny burny give-me-space-or-I’ll-explodey? That’s okay.
– –


What is here?

Is it… trying to escape your skin. Avoid. Hide?

– –  

Give yourself some time with your journal. Be right where you are. Ask, what is here? It’s okay to not be okay. The state will shift when it’s time. What is here?  

You don’t need to understand it. You don’t need to make sense of it. It’s a feeling that will pass.  

You might find, as I do, once you write it – the full truth – you can see… it’s not so bad right here.